Reflections from an Enneagram Seven: Learning to Face Pain
Several years ago my wife Jessica and I moved our family of four into a new apartment. At first it seemed like a fine place, but upon closer inspection (which wasn’t an option until we moved in), we realized that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. The dishwasher was broken. A couple windows were calked shut. The toilet wouldn’t stop running.
Worst of all was the carpet. It was, in a word, disgusting. The previous owners had owned a cat they never told us about, and had a propensity to never ever clean up after said cat. Jessica (who is a Perfectionist ONE—remember them?) was repulsed, and for good reason. The place had started to stink. When we stepped on certain sections of the carpet, clouds of dirt would puff up. The bottom of our kids’ feet, after walking around the place for several minutes, had turned black. To top it all off, we’d signed a lease accepting the place as it was, and we had no money for new carpet.
“What are we going to do?” asked Jessica, holding back tears of frustration.
And then I uttered the phrase that would haunt me for years.
I looked my distraught wife in the eyes, shrugged, and said, “Just don’t look down.”
Yes, I’m a SEVEN on the Enneagram, through and through.
Life Is Wonderful as a Seven, Even When It’s Not
We Sevens love life—we are cheerful, enthusiastic, and positive. Our nickname is “the Enthusiast,” and it fits our idealism, passion, and fun-loving nature perfectly. When you encounter a Seven you feel better about life because our humor, self-deprecation, and winsomeness are infectious. Think Amadeus Mozart, Walt Disney, Jennifer Lawrence: all likely Sevens.
Kids love an adult who is a Seven; they gather around us at parties because we ask great questions (we love the fact that our curiosity makes people feel great about themselves). Our most basic desires are to be satisfied, content, and happy, so our mission is to make sure other people feel those ways too. It’s wonderful to be with a Seven, and it’s wonderful to be a Seven.
The fact that life is not always wonderful is where things get complicated.
Dancing Through Life, No Matter the Cost
The realities of our cruel world, strained relationships, and personal brokenness (not to mention disgusting carpets in apartments we are stuck in) do not jive with a Seven’s desire for happiness and peace. Because of that, we are driven to avoid these things at all costs. This means Sevens try to fix things as quickly as possible, even if that means applying a Band-Aid instead of really addressing the wound. We gloss over difficult situations, skimming over the surface of hurt in order to keep from sinking into the painful realities around us. And we can always find the silver lining, no matter how thin. The glass is always half full, even when it’s three-quarters empty. “It gets better” is our rallying cry.
And if all else fails, “Just don’t look down.”
Because the world is full of pain and we hate pain, Sevens will seek out pleasure and are thus also prone to addictive behaviors. Alcoholism, drugs, addictions to food and sex—we are well versed in all the vices. Our Seven-ness works against us as people confront us with our addictions and we respond with obtuse surprise, cheery denial, and assurances that we are working on it, no problem, everything will be fine soon. Oh, we’re good at this.
Hope and Healing for a Seven
While a broken and unhealthy Seven (not unlike any other broken person on the Enneagram) not only damages themselves but also the people around them, a redeemed Seven is a sight to behold. They know how to channel the energy they’d normally put into being happy into bringing joy instead. Instead of living in a constant state of FOMO, they know how to be content in any circumstance and invite others to do the same. They have eschewed addictions and embraced living life to the fullest and deepest. And they have learned to live in a state of authentic gratefulness for every good thing in their lives.
If you are a Seven and are wondering how to get to the place where you are bringing health to yourself and others from the deepest parts of you, let me suggest two things.
A Seven desires to get: get comfortable, get attention, get full, get happy. One antidote to this is to make purposeful strides to give things up. The most effective way I’ve found to heal me from my broken Seven tendencies is to fast.
This has mostly looked like fasting from food, as the Bible, and Jesus himself, instructs. When I purposefully give up my most basic need for a meal, a day, or even several days in a row, my addiction to serving myself is interrupted. In fact, each time I fast, that addiction to self begins to dissipate altogether.
In recent years I have gotten creative in my fasting to further break my addiction to self-serving comfort. I have gone on months-long breaks from media, social or otherwise. I’ve fasted from spending money on anything but basic needs. And last year I took two days off of work and blindfolded myself for the entire time in order to fully submit myself to God and see only what he wanted me to see. It was the longest 48 hours of my life, but as I gave up even the most basic of comforts, I gained insights into my life I never would have in my normal routine of living as easy as possible.
2. Look Down
Jessica’s response to me when I told her to “just don’t look down” changed me forever (no joke—when I tell people about the most life-changing moments of my life, this one is always on the list). She looked right back at me and said, “Maybe you can live your life like that, but I can’t. I look down.”
Sevens need to look down too. Living in denial of pain and brokenness might help us feel better for a short while and meet our need for comfort and happiness temporarily. But it’s just not real. Entering into the pain is actually a way for Sevens to achieve great joy, as we have the opportunity to join in the work of making our world a better place (or, in my case, calling the landlord and working out a way to pay a bit more rent in exchange for new carpet). Our deepest desires for true comfort, harmony, and satisfaction can only be satisfied if we get to those places through the pain instead of around it.
A healthy Seven is an amazing force for good. But we have to get serious about entering into the real world, having real conversations, and pursuing real joy.
Image designed by twentyonehundred productions team member Jono Gay.
Spiritual director (and former InterVarsity staff member) Alice Fryling introduces the Enneagram with questions and meditations to lead you into deeper self-awareness. You'll learn how you can experience God's love more abundantly and extend God's grace to others more fully.